Kemp to travel to South Korea on first overseas trade mission

Gov. Brian Kemp. Bob Andres /

Gov. Brian Kemp. Bob Andres /

Gov. Brian Kemp will travel to South Korea at the end of the month for his first international economic development mission, seeking to bolster ties between Georgia and the Asian nation.

The governor plans a series of business meetings during the visit from June 22-28. State officials say Kemp’s pick of South Korea for the first overseas trip is a signal of the nation’s importance.

South Korean firms have invested $2 billion in Georgia in the past year, and several other investments from South Korean companies are in the state’s prospect pipeline, said Pat Wilson, the commissioner of Georgia’s economic development arm.

They include SK Innovation, which in March broke ground on a $1.7 billion plant in Jackson County that will eventually employ 2,000 people. And solar panel manufacturer Hanwha Q Cells has recently hired 600 staffers in Dalton.

“Korea is our hottest investment market right now,” Wilson told the board of the Georgia Department of Economic Development in May.

Georgia’s connections to South Korea go back decades, and are bolstered by port traffic in Savannah and Brunswick, along with direct flights from Atlanta to Seoul.

South Korea is the eighth-largest purchaser of Georgia exports, and the nation is the fifth-largest importer of goods to Georgia behind China, Germany, Mexico and Japan, according to U.S. Census data.

The biggest symbol of those ties is the state’s recruitment of a Kia Motors factory in West Point, which revived Georgia’s dormant automotive manufacturing industry after the losses of Ford and General Motors plants in metro Atlanta.

And just as Kia spawned a network of parts manufacturers around west Georgia and east Alabama, state officials expect SK suppliers to dot northeast Georgia with factories and new jobs.

“Everything is going to be moving to electric over the next 10 to 15 years, with the European market and the Chinese market moving even faster than the American market,” Wilson said. “They will not only be making batteries (for the U.S. market), they’ll be exporting batteries through the port of Savannah.”

South Korea has been a frequent target of Georgia trade missions. Gov. Nathan Deal trekked through South Korea and Japan in 2011 and 2017. And Gov. Sonny Perdue visited South Korea several times, including a trip in 2006 to announce the Kia deal.